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May 27, 2011

Can support from friends and parents really help bullied teens?

Rothon, C., Head, J., Klineberg, E., & Stansfeld, S. (2011). Can social support protect bullied adolescents from adverse outcomes? A prospective study on the effects of bullying on the educational achievement and mental health of adolescents at secondary schools. Journal of Adolescence, 34, 579-588.

These authors aimed to examine whether adolescents could be protected against the negative effects of bullying on both educational attainment and symptoms of depression. In particular, their focus was on whether social support could protect young people, and they were particularly interested in the identity of those providing support (parents or friends).

In the study, data were collected from 2093 young people in East London aged 11-14 years old. Experiences of being bullied and social support recruited at that time were self-reported. Then, two years later, symptoms of depression (again, self-report) and educational attainment were assessed. Educational attainment was categorised as either passing or failing a specific benchmark.

Overall, 9.1% of the sample reported that they had been bullied in the preceding term. Older students were less likely to be bullied than younger. Boys and girls were equally likely to have been bullied.

Bullying and symptoms of depression: being bullied significantly increased boys’ reported symptoms, but did not influence girls’ symptoms. For boys, social support from friends helped to reduce the number of depressive symptoms, though bullied boys still had problems of this nature. Parental support made no difference.

Bullying and academic achievement: being bullied had a strong impact on students’ chances of achieving the benchmark in academic achievement. Those who had low or moderate levels of support from friends were less likely to achieve the benchmark than were those with high levels of support. With regards to family support, only having moderate levels of family support helped students to achieve the benchmark. This last finding seems odd to me, and I’d personally like to see it replicated before placing much weight on it.

May 19, 2011

Which thoughts lead to aggressive behaviors?

Peets, K., Hodges, E.V.E., & Salmivalli, C. (2011). Actualization of social cognitions into aggressive behavior toward disliked targets. Social Development, 20 (2), 233-250.

This study aimed to better understand how children’s thoughts related to the extent to which they were aggressive toward other children they disliked. The specific thoughts the authors were interested in were taken from social information processing theory (see Crick & Dodge, 1994). They wanted to look at
(i) the tendency for children think others are acting in a threatening way, even when the other child’s actions are ambiguous. This is called a Hostile Attribution Bias.
(ii) how confident children are that they can be ‘successfully’ aggressive (e.g. whether they could easily push someone over)
(iii) how angry the child thinks they would be in different social situations.

The authors looked at the degree to which these different thoughts explain children’s aggression toward other children whom they disliked. They were also interested in whether the length of time that the ‘disliking’ had gone on had an effect, and whether the extent to which both children were known to be aggressive had an effect.

Children in this study were 195 11-12 year olds (56% were girls) from Finland. These children provided information at two time points, one year apart from each other. All children reported who they disliked in class, and all reported on how aggressive other children in their class were. Everything else of interest (the specific thoughts outlined above) were assessed by presenting short stories and asking the children questions about these.

This study found that children who expected to feel high levels of anger in social situations, and who were confident in their use of aggression, were more likely to be aggressive – but this was most true when they had disliked someone for a long time.

They also found that certain thoughts were closely linked to specific types of aggression. The Hostile Attribution Bias predicted ‘reactive’ aggression (a kind of hot-headed aggression, e.g. being knocked over and reacting by jumping up and hitting whoever knocked you over). In contrast, the degree to which children were confident about being aggressive toward other children predicted their ‘proactive’ aggression (a more calculated, premeditated type of aggression – like bullying).

Of particular interest to me was the finding that children were more likely to be proactively aggressive when the child they were being aggressive toward was themselves reactively aggressive. This suggest that bullies might deliberately pick on other children who they know will try to fight back, and that in turn might suggest that they are confident that the victim’s efforts will be unsuccessful. This reinforces the anti-bullying advice that if often offered i.e. if someone is picking on you, ignoring them might be the best way to get them to leave you alone.

May 18, 2011

Social Anxiety Disorder and Victimization

Gren-Landell, M., Aho, N., Andersson, G., & Svedin, C.G. (2011). Social anxiety disorder and victimization in a community sample of adolescents. Journal of Adolescence, 34, 569-577.

People with social anxiety disorder (SAD) are very scared or worried about social situations. The authors argue here that peer victimization might be important in the development of this problem, and were particularly interested in the relationship between SAD and different types of peer-victimization.

A representative, community sample of 3211 Swedish adolescents took part. All participants were 17 years old (51% female) and they completed an online questionnaire which allowed the researchers to classify all participants as either ‘probable cases’ of SAD or not. The young people also reported on their experiences of different types of victimization: conventional crime (e.g. robbery), maltreatment (e.g. physical abuse by a parent), peer or sibling victimization (e.g. bullying, dating violence), sexual victimization (e.g. rape, verbal sexual harassment), and witnessing victimization (e.g. domestic violence, war). For each of these five types of victimization, students were asked to report whether these things had happened in the preceding 12 months or before that time.

Overall, SAD was present in 10.6% of the group, and rates were highest amongst females, those in large cities, and those born abroad or whose parents were born abroad.

The young people who were classified as ‘probable cases’ of SAD reported more lifetime victimization overall, and higher levels of maltreatment, sexual victimization and peer or sibling victimization. They did not differ on levels of conventional crime or on levels of witnessing victimization. There were also some gender differences which indicated that ‘lifetime’ levels of peer or sibling victimization was the only important precursor to SAD for males. In contrast, ‘recent’ experiences peer or sibling victimization and ‘recent’ experiences of sexual victimization were important for SAD among females. Among females, ‘lifetime’ experiences of peer or sibling victimization, sexual victimization, and maltreatment were all important.

The authors note the importance, for both researchers and clinicians, of looking into the gender-specific relationships between types of victimization and SAD.